Nationwide 20th anniversary tour of ‘Rent’ begins at Indiana University Auditorium

Post courtesy of IU Newsroom intern Amanda N. Marino:

A young Skyler Volpe first heard the music of “Rent” when she was about 5 years old. Her parents had seen the show and fell in love with the music.

“I came into ‘Rent’ when I was very young, maybe too young,” she said.

At that same young age, Volpe was already singing, dancing and performing on stage.

Now Volpe is starring as Mimi Marquez in the 20th anniversary tour of “Rent.”

The touring production will premiere tonight at Indiana University Auditorium in Bloomington and continues with two more performances Sept. 13 and 14 before traveling to nearly 70 cities across the United States through next summer.

Volpe, Skyler

Skyler Volpe will portray Mimi Marquez in “Rent.”

Volpe said it’s a dream come true.

“This is my biggest role so far,” she said.

Along with her personal connection to the musical, Volpe said she feels she is carrying a relevant message to audiences even three decades after the AIDS crisis hit New York.

It’s more than a story about AIDS, she said. It’s about living your life generously and full of love, an important message even now.

“We are definitely carrying on a legacy in a way I’ve never felt responsible for in the past,” Volpe said.

Because Volpe has been doing a lot of new work since she moved to New York, she said the opportunity to be a part of this production has presented her with new challenges. Volpe said that unlike her last major project, “Passing Strange,” most people have seen or heard of “Rent.” This familiarity means people come to the show with certain expectations.

Volpe also said the audition process was one of the most intense she had ever experienced. Despite this, the environment was also very encouraging, allowing her to play and make choices as an actress.

“It’s been such a joy, every second of it,” she said.

In rehearsals, Volpe said the energy is off the charts, “like the room is bubbling with electricity over this show,” she said.

One of the biggest factors in creating that energy is the feeling of community that cast, crew and production members all share. She said they all clicked instantly and became part of an even bigger “Rent” family. Unlike other productions, Volpe said, she has had the opportunity to meet cast members from past runs of the show. They come to visit rehearsals and meet cast members, creating a family not unlike the one the characters have in the show.

“These characters, they’re not related, but they find each other,” Volpe said. “They become a family.”

This is the message and experience Volpe said she wants to bring on tour. She called it a fresh breath on a classic.

“I really do just feel really privileged and lucky to be able to do this,” she said.

The tour is also providing Volpe with the opportunity to see Bloomington and the rest of the country for the first time.

“We’re bringing ‘Rent’ for now to the world, and we’re doing it with the most integrity and the most honesty and the most joy that we can, and it’s worth it,” she said.

The show features Danny Harris Kornfeld as Mark Cohen, Kaleb Wells as Roger Davis, Skyler Volpe as Mimi Marquez, David Merino as Angel Dumott Schunard, Aaron Harrington as Tom Collins, Jasmine Easler as Joann Jefferson, Katie LaMark as Maureen Johnson and Christian Thompson as Benny Coffin III.

Tickets for all three of the 8 p.m. performances of “Rent” Sept. 12 to 14 are available online at or in person at the IU Auditorium box office, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. “Rent” is intended for mature audiences.

More than the shows 

To accompany the public performances of “Rent,” IU Auditorium has arranged a variety of additional events.

Following the Sept. 13 performance, audience members are invited to attend a question-and-answer session with the cast of “Rent.” Anyone with a ticket to that night’s performance is welcome to stay after the show.

Also, IU Auditorium will hold a special front-row ticket lottery for students. At 5:30 p.m. each night of the performance, students can sign up for the chance to purchase up to two front-row seats. Winners, who must be IU Bloomington students, will be drawn at 6 p.m. Their guests are not required to be IU students.

On Sept. 8, musicians from “Rent” participated in a Project Jumpstart discussion with students from the IU Jacobs School of Music about how to maintain a career as a traveling artist.

The same day,  IU Auditorium held a public panel discussion, “80 Seasons of Love: Rent and HIV Over 20 Years” in its lobby. A panel of IU experts discussed how the perception and treatment of AIDS has evolved over the past two decades. The event was moderated by health and sexuality educator Kathryn Brown of the IU Health Center.

Students in the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance also had the chance to take a behind-the-scenes tour Sept. 9, which highlighted technical aspects of the production.

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